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Rob Mills on trading singing for magic in Puffs

It's gonna be hard for us to not laugh on stage when we're doing it in front of an audience...It's funny, it's sad, it's tragic, it's triumphant.”

In the 1966 play Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, playwright Tom Stoppard envisioned what would unfurl if the focus of Shakespeare's Hamlet was shifted to that of two minor characters, oblivious to the goings-on of the now-former protagonist.
 
Although much more light-hearted in nature, this comparison should give you a little bit of insight into Puffs, an Off-Broadway success story that celebrates the overlooked underdogs of a universe we can't legally refer to within this article by its full name. Think “boy wizard” and the first thing that pops into your head is almost definitely correct.
 
“I admittedly wasn't really across this whole world when I first went for the audition,” Rob Mills – yes, that Rob Mills – who plays Cedric in the play, explains. “I've just always wanted to do a comedy. I did a cabaret show a couple of years ago where I basically took the piss out of myself for an hour and a bit, and I loved getting those laughs on stage. Ever since I got the part, I've fallen in love with this world. I loved the script from the second I got my hands on it, and I've really fallen for these characters.”
 
Puffs follows the story of Wayne, Oliver and Megan – three ragtag friends that attend the same school as the boy who lived, but are too caught up in their own side of the school housing to worry about his wheelings and dealings for too long. Mills – sorry, Millsy – describes the leads of the show as the perfect anti-heroes. “They're dorks,” he says. “They're the losers, but they're adorable. At the school, you have the brave house, the smart house and the snake house. The Puffs take all the rest of them. I think Australian audiences will really connect with these characters – it's easy to see yourself in them.”
 
Cedric, Mills' character in Puffs, may be familiar to fans of the series. “He's genuine, he's loyal, he's sincere, he just wants the best for everyone,” Mills says. “Sure, you know he's gonna fail – but it's okay to fail. You learn that in the show. He serves as a mentor to the main characters. Cedric just wants to make everyone feel welcome and that everyone fits in.”
 
Having spent the last few years on productions like Grease, Wicked and the Legally Blonde musical, a non-singing theatre role is a surprising turn for Mills. Speaking of his time in production for Puffs however, he cannot speak highly enough of the cast and crew he's surrounded with. “The cast is full of these wonderful – dare I say – young actors,” Mills says (who, for the record, is only 35). “I don't want to call them up-and-coming, because it's a disservice to them – they've actually done a lot of plays between them. Matt [Whitty], who plays Ernie, was in one of my favourite productions I saw last year, a show called The Play That Goes Wrong. It was absolutely hilarious. I feel very privileged to be treading the boards with these guys. It's such a perfectly cast show – everyone shines in every beat of the show.”
 
At the time of speaking, Mills and the rest of the cast were in the midst of a dinner break from a full tech rehearsal. The show did a run of four preview shows before the sold-out opening night went down. Mills is the first to admit how big of an undertaking the show has been – but, at the same time, is just as quick to point out how positively he feels about this little show that could. “You can always tell when you're in rehearsals where the laughs are going to be,” he says. “All this week, we've been laughing – it's honestly such a funny script. It's going to be hard for us to not laugh on stage when we're doing it in front of an audience. That's going to be our big test before we open, I think. It's funny, it's sad, it's tragic, it's triumphant.”

Puffs: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic plays at the Alex Theatre until Sunday July 8, with tickets available via the venue’s website.